At the beginning of each school year I introduce a few fun games that encourage number sense and problem solving. Dominoes are great for mental math, recognizing patterns, and teaching multiples of five (Playification). Another favorite is Cribbage (First “How-To” on Cribbage).
Cribbage is a card game that has two parts. I’ve written about the first part, the one that requires players to analyze their hands and decide which cards to keep and which to place into a crib.
During Math Centers, I have students work in teams of two or three to figure out which four cards of a six-card hand will generate the most points. Every student is very attentive, because if a team misses any combinations that provide points, and a student from another team can articulate the potential point-producing combination, this other student gets to claim the points, virtually stealing points from one another. They love that!
After a little practice with this, I explain cutting the deck to provide a “Starter” card. This card gets placed face up on top of the reassembled deck and is also used for making point-producing combinations at the end of each round. The Starter is shared by every team and the crib. Now, when students decide which cards to “lay away” for the crib, they should keep in mind the idea of collecting those points later, if the crib is theirs, or potentially providing points for opponents. Students practice mental math and problem solving for a few more Math Centers.
Once my students are well-versed in how to choose the best cards to keep, it is time to learn how to actually “Play” the game. There are loads of rules to learn and remember, but what makes it fun is that nearly everything you do gets you points! When teaching the Play, be sure to peg points. The kids get super excited with each and every point.
The first thing I show students is how to hold their Hand. This is new to some nine-year-olds. They have to hold the cards they’ve kept because we place one down on the table or floor at a time, and you don’t want to get them mixed up.
Something unique to cribbage is that players (teams) will recollect their cards in order to calculate the points their hand is worth when Play is over. For this reason, have students place the cards that they are playing right in front of them; separate from other players/teams.
Next, I explain that, during Play, we add up a running tally of “Pips.” Pips are the symbols on the playing cards. A “Five of Hearts” has five pips or hearts on it. Each face card (Jack, Queen, and King) are worth ten pips in cribbage. An Ace is valued at only one pip in this game. It is very useful; Hang on to those! (Here is a very interesting blog explaining pips and the symbolism of cards.) As students place one of their cards face up on the table or floor, they don’t say the number on the card. They announce the new sum of all of the face up cards. So, if a King had already been played, and that player (team) voiced “Ten,” and then I play a Two, I will say “Twelve” out loud. If the next player (team) places a Three face up, they will say “Fifteen” out loud, keeping a running tab on the growing tally of pips.
The player or team that plays the Fifteen is rewarded Two Points on the cribbage board. You get points during Play whenever you form a combination of Fifteen, a pair, three or four of a kind, and/or a run. These point-producing combinations are similar to what students were looking for when deciding which cards to place in the crib and which to keep. But now, students are forming them with the help of their opponents’ cards.
Let’s say two Queens have been played. The player who placed the second Queen on the table or floor will be rewarded two points. If a third Queen gets played, the person (team) that played it will get six points, because it forms three pairs.
Similarly, when a run of three or more cards in consecutive ascending order are played in a row, the player (team) gets the number of points that represents the number of cards. In other words, if a Ten, then a Jack, and lastly a Queen were played in a row, the person (team) that played the Queen would get three points.
During “Play” the pips can never exceed 31. This is the magic number of cribbage play. As players are placing cards face up and voicing the running sum of pips, they are mindful of what cards they have left to play. The closest to 31, without going over, gets a point. If you can play a card to make the Play value exactly 31 pips, you get two points. As the Play gets close to 31, if a player (team) does not have any card to play that would keep the play under 31, they say “Go.” This is when the other team gets a point. That team must play any cards that they can, keeping the tally under 31. They can collect points from pairs, runs, and even score two points for making exactly 31.
At this point, all of the cards that have been played get turned over (facedown), so that they don’t confuse the players during the next Play. The player (team) who said “Go” during the last play starts off the new play.
Once all of the cards have been played, and a point was awarded to the player (team) who plays the “Last Card,” it is time for each player (team) to gather up all four of their cards and get points for their individual hands. (Here is a website to reference for points.)
This we do one team at a time. The dealer goes last. The crib is counted separately, and that is the very last thing to be tallied. It’s important to count in this order, because whoever reaches the end of the cribbage board first, regardless of how many points are in a hand, wins. In this way, you may not want to be the dealer if a tight game is nearing the end!
I hope this blog is helpful for learning how to teach cribbage to students. One of the many benefits of learning this game is the cross-generational play it opens up. It was one of the first games that I was able to play with the “grownups” during holiday celebrations and vacations. My dad told me about a league he played at his Senior Center in Massachusetts. One thing that he complained about was how fast those games were. It was too much pressure.
That being said, you might want to put timers on for students, in order to keep the game moving. Also, you could have a timer for the whole game; Whoever has the most points when the timer goes off wins! Have fun!
https://bicyclecards.com/how-to-play/cribbage (Simple how-to-play site)
https://mvhm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/THE-HISTORY-OF-CRIBBAGE-Latest-1.pdf (Simple, kid-friendly read)
https://www.artofmanliness.com/living/games-tricks/the-manly-history-of-cribbage-and-how-to-play-the-game/ (Thorough, interesting, includes “how-to”)
Popularly played by seniors (my dad loved to play, and I was taught by my mom), here’s an article from a Senior Center introducing Cribbage to the game repertoire: https://cornwallmanor.org/blog/cribbage-makes-way-cornwall-manor/